OK, so the weather isn’t cooperating. It’s 41 degrees and the cloudy skies are more gloomy than invigorating, but it’s Opening Day, and nothing is going to stop me from enjoying my 50th consecutive celebration at Kauffman Stadium.
That’s right, I have been in attendance as a fan, a weekend news anchor at KQTV Channel 2 in St. Joseph or a sports writer/columnist for every home opener in the history of the Kansas City Royals.
While they have all been enjoyable, none will top the first game in the history of the Royals, a 4-3, 12-inning win at Municipal Stadium, a historic little park located at 22nd and Brooklyn that became my home away from home.
My mom and dad surprised me with two season tickets for Christmas back in 1968. Oh, 1968 – the worst year of my life. Charlie Finley had taken my beloved Kansas City A’s – a team that was on the verge of a dynasty with players like Catfish Hunter, Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando and Joe Rudi – and moved them to the West Coast.
I spent an entire summer without baseball, and it was miserable. But then, a local businessman named Ewing Kauffman teamed with Missouri senator Stuart Symington and brought professional baseball back to Kansas City.
That was big news for a freshman in high school who lived, breathed and slept baseball.
When I opened my season ticket Christmas present, I began counting the days until the April 8, 1969 opener against the Minnesota Twins.
I went to that first game on crutches, after breaking my leg while wrestling at Palmer Junior High. But it was going to take more than a broken bone to keep me from watching my new hometown heroes.
As I hobbled to the restroom in left field before the game, a voice from the field called out to me: “Hey kid, what happened to your leg?”
It was Lou Piniella, who would go on and collect four hits in the game and win the Rookie of the Year Award. He was playing catch and took a moment to make my day even more special.
I yelled back that I broke it wrestling, and he said, “Maybe this will make it feel better.”
He then threw me a baseball.
Was I dreaming? Did this really happen? A day that I thought could not get any better just became one of those moments in your life you never forget.
I reached up and grabbed the baseball as Piniella said, “Nice catch, kid.”
I still have that baseball, and the memories of a game that featured a game-winning hit by Joe Keough and a win for flaky reliever Moe Drabowsky, who was known for placing gold fish in the water cooler of the visiting team’s bullpen.
So many of my most vivid sports memories happened at Municipal of Kauffman stadiums. Baseball is the reason I’m a sports writer and covering players like George Brett, Frank White, Dan Quisenberry, Bret Saberhagen and Hal McRae back in the golden era of the Royals elicit memories that will live forever.
Then, Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Wade Davis brought those golden memories to life once again with the memorable 2104 and 2015 seasons.
As I head out the door to watch my 50th Opening Day, I wonder what memories this game will produce. Will Danny Duffy join the ranks of home opening heroes? Will the team survive the recent injury to Perez, the best catcher in baseball?
Only time will tell. And God willing, I’ll have many more Opening Day highlights to enjoy and share with my family, friends and all of you who make my job so very special.
See you at The K!